Thursday, May 20, 2010

Give and Take

"Life is a tightrope, and at the other end is your coffin."
(Morticia Addams to son Puggsley in The Addams Family Musical)

Having had a Facebook page for quite some time now and using it for, well, nothing, I recently decided to step up the activity level and reach out to friends old and new. Heaven only knows what drives someone to make a decision like that - maybe it was seeing how Facebook got Betty White onto Saturday Night Live - but I did. For the past couple of weeks I've been actively making pithy comments on friends' "Status Updates" (which were called random thoughts before computers were invented). I also sought out some old friends.

One of the friends I sought out is a woman I haven't had contact with in 25 years. She responded to my "message" with a "friend request." (It's a Facebook thing.) It gave me a great feeling to reconnect with Maureen. I have a theory that every 16 year old boy meets a certain girl of about the same age and it gets him considering, for the first time, the possibility that baseball might be the second best thing ever invented. For me, this was Maureen. Let me emphasize that, despite my best puppy-dog efforts, nothing of a romantic nature ever came of this first crush (well, second, if you count Miss Wilson, my kindergarten teacher, and third if you count Annette Funicello in reruns). Even at 15 she was too smart for that. We did, happy to say, become friends and stayed in contact for a number of years before life does that thing where it sends people off to different destinies. Today the crush is long gone, and my respect for who Maureen is and what she has done with her life remains great. I am looking forward to getting to know her again. My first post to her "wall" (another Facebook thing) was a note welcoming her to Facebook, and providing a friendly warning not to get involved with Farmville, an abyss to which many go and from which few return.

At about the same time I reached out to another old friend, this one from my days on Prodigy in the early-to-mid 90's. (For younger readers, think of Prodigy as the internet version of 8-track tapes.) It had been about 15 years since I'd had contact with Anne. A paralegal and freelance writer, she was wickedly funny and totally delightful. Her life was not smooth but she never failed to impress with the upbeat energy and humorous, indomitable spirit with which she handled it all. As with Maureen, time and distance never kept Anne from remaining one of my favorite people. To this day, her picture - smiling with her eyes as much as with her mouth, and flanked by her two adorable then-toddler daughters - hangs on the wall in my home office. Over the years, I sometimes found myself wondering how she is. And so, armed with the Internet, I was now able to set out to find her Facebook page or e-mail address.

What I found was her obituary.

It was from about a year ago, and was accompanied by another, more recent picture at age 42. Her smile was still as room-illuminating as it was in the picture she'd sent me all those years ago. I read some blog entries she'd written in the months before her death. She'd fallen on seriously hard times of several types. I don't know the cause of her death, and there's a good chance I never will, but the lack of any reference to an illness even as recently as her last post a month before she died got me thinking. So I read more. Several months before, at a time when her own house was being foreclosed on, she'd written a blog post about a study she'd seen linking a rise in foreclosure rates to a rise in suicide rates. And I read comments posted to her blog after she died by people she was close to: one writer said he wished he'd listened more to what she had been trying to tell him; another expressed regret at not being there more for her; a third wishing Anne's soul the peace it never found on earth. There's no escaping the thought that these are not things people would typically say when someone's death was accidental or natural.

It's human nature - at least I think it is - to start thinking that had I only reached out a month before her death instead of a year afterward, I might have been able to say something, do something, suggest something, that would have made a difference for Anne and prevented this from happening. It's an ego-driven, fantasy-based notion that's complete nonsense, of course, something that is probably true of most things that can be ascribed purely to human nature. But I find I think it anyway.

And so, in a single, mighty cosmic sweep, one valued soul is returned to my life and another is taken from it forever. There's a lesson in there somewhere, and as soon as the irony stops shouting, maybe I'll figure out what it is.


Silverdoe said...

I'm right with you herre..on all of this........
(finally found my way back to blogging from Facebook too....and you are the first I read on my return!)

Cathy said...

Well Ben, I confess to joining FB too, after realizing a few months ago that it was an easy way to talk to my neices and nephews. But after a very short while I noticed people asking to "confirm friendships" and of course, anyone can comment on someone's wall (who makes up these words?) so before long I've acquired new people in my life, most of whom I'm happy to say I enjoy, and like. The ones I didn't think I'd have anything in common with I just didn't "confirm" lol sounds so weird. But I discovered these groups, and discussion boards and a plethora of ways to just DIALOGUE with people about things you feel strongly about, I like it and now feel glad I joined. In your case, you were looking for specific people and found the yin and yang of life I suppose. But there's a world of people out there who want to connect, just to BE connected I suppose. People will search you out, and ask to befriend you - it's really another original social-networking idea only a little less detailed, but you can advertise your blog. I use my name, Cathy Rapcano, so I hope you find me and we can make use of this thing lol. It's not like blogging, which I've neglected, I'd say it's a quick way to just reach out to fellow humans. So send me a friend request because I don't know what name you use - I'll "confirm" you lol. What a world, eh?

Big Mark 243 said...

I found this a very good read. You never know what may turn up on Facebook.

Both stories are ones that never gets much play when it comes to finding old friends online... well, maybe there are more stories like the one about Maureen, but Anne...

I don't think those stories make for good copy. Quiet truths on the mossy side of the Facebook rock.

How does it feel to find out about Anne? I wish to know (but please don't answer... it is more rhetorical than anything else) because there was a time that my SFC and I life intersected and things did not come out as well for one of us as it did the other.

Finding out how much of a difference has added to the impact of something that happened so long ago.

I am glad that I was able to read this very real life entry.

oldhousegal said...

A very beautiful piece about your friend Anne. You should consider trying to get this published somewhere. You could adapt it to be a stand alone essay in your local paper, or maybe even a magazine. Think about it.

On the lighter side, I too had a thing about Annette Funicello. As a child I was VERY blonde, but that made me very unhappy because I wanted to be a brunette just like Annette. In one of those grand cosmic ironies, my hair got darker as I got older, at about the same rate as my appreciation for blonde hair grew. Oh well, such is life.

DB said...

As a recent returner to Facebook, or rejoiner perhaps, I too would like to be your "friend" and scribble on your "wall."

Dana Bate
aka DB

mrs. miss alaineus said...

i was contacted by a former 'family' member at work and i dont know if i feel comfortable talking to her on the phone. i'm thinking of using the facebook as an intermediary until it becomes less weird to me. i mean i haven't seen nor heard from this person since i was 16 so i guess 20+ years mean i don't have to be in any sort of hurry to reply.

still, your sharing made me think of the 'what if' i didnt contact her back....